Author: Howard Wright

Of all the big data stories from around the world last week, and there were plenty, including the continuing haul of winners being accumulated by Godolphin at the Dubai World Cup Carnival, none was more remarkable than a rundown of stable numbers likely to emerge from the strongest Flat yards numerically in Britain in 2019. Timed as an introduction to the imminent publication of the latest edition of Horses In Training, its current publisher the Racing Post compiled a table of trainers with the most individual horses among those detailed at the time of submission. Four names stood out: Richard Hannon, Mark Johnston, Andrew Balding and Roger Varian, for the simple fact that each one has put forward at least 200 horses to go to war with this year. However, this tells only part of the story, which depends entirely on trainers’ submissions.

Neither John Gosden nor Richard Fahey has put in a list, yet both are certain to be among the actual double centurions, and it will be a surprise if William Haggas, with 199 horses to his name in Horses In Training, does not find at least one more candidate entering his Newmarket yard as the season progresses. Submissions made in February for publication this month tend to change as the year moves on. For example, Varian and Saeed bin Suroor both recorded 200 horses in last year’s annual but in the event sent out 175 and 125 individual runners respectively. Nevertheless, if the observations about Gosden and Haggas prove to be correct, 2019 will be a record year for British trainers with 200 or more horses. For the last two seasons the same four trainers, a record in itself, have delivered 200 or more individual runners on the Flat.

Richard Hannon leads the way with 268 and 289, closely followed by Fahey with 298 and 256, then Gosden, with 225 and 219, and Mark Johnston, with 217 and 227, for identical combined totals. Between them, they sent out 991 horses in 2018, 17 fewer than the year before, but it will be a shock if they do not combine to hit four figures again this year. The difference is that, based on Horses In Training numbers, they could well be joined by at least three others, which would push the record into unknown territory. Gosden and Varian should take care of themselves, while Andrew Balding will have a stable of 200 or more for the first time. As all these trainers, particularly Fahey and Hannon, tend to take in more horses as the season goes on, a grand total of seven double centurions by the end of 2019 is not beyond the realms of possibility.

So, with the fact that the number of trainers with between 100 and 199 runners over the year is going up, that can mean only one thing, that the biggest yards in Britain are getting even bigger. In 2017, discounting the four 200+ scorers, there were 19 trainers who saddled 100 or more runners, accounting for a total of 2,683 individuals. Last year the figure rose to 22 trainers with a total of 2,891 runners. Over the course of the year, some new names appeared among the list of those saddling 100+ runners, while others dropped out. Archie Watson (117 runners) and Simon Crisford (100 exactly) were the notable newcomers. But the overall trend was upwards, and despite all the tales of doom and gloom in bloodstock circles, there seems little reason to believe it will suddenly go into reverse.

All this, of course, is to split Godolphin’s operation in Newmarket between the two trainers. As mentioned, Saeed bin Suroor produced 200 names for last year’s Horses In Training but ran 125 individuals, while Charlie Appleby was credited with160 and ran 121. This year bin Suroor has entered 184 and Appleby 185. Take them together and whatever the eventual number of individual runners, it will comfortably go over 200. One of the more remarkable facets of the growing numbers of bigger yards is that trainers in the North of England, which some sceptics have suggested is a backwater for Flat horses, have more than held their own. Two Yorkshire-based trainers, Fahey and Johnston, are among the four who had 200 or more runners to their name on the Flat in 2018, and a further five from the North, including Keith Dalgleish in Scotland, figured in the top 20 by prize money who sent out 100 or more runners.

That hardly smacks of a region on its knees, at least not in terms of quantity, which is as good a measure of popularity among racehorse owners as any. The increase in the number of bigger yards is a relatively recent phenomenon. Going back to 1964, the year I started in the business of racing media, Horses In Training recorded that Bill Elsey and Willie Stephenson had the joint biggest strings, with 92 apiece, followed by Ryan Price, whose mixed yard numbered 81, and Noel Murless, who with 72 horses was responsible for the largest stable in Newmarket, where his only colleagues with more than 60 horses were Geoffrey Brooke (68) and Sam Armstrong (62). In the North, the biggest after Elsey were Pat Rohan (68), Buster Fenningworth (59) and Sam Hall (58).

For a more profound contrast, though, look no farther than three of this year’s double centurions: John Gosden, Andrew Balding and Richard Hannon. In 1964, Gosden’s father Towser trained 35 horses; Balding’s grandfather Peter Hastings-Bass trained 42, and Hannon’s grandfather Harry trained 18. Times really have changed in a short time.

Big is beautiful in training ranks